Fish farming

Leave aside the substantive questions about fish farms and what we have here is a dreadful way of making public policy

One of the reasons for our obesity crisis is the loss of radio adverts specifically designed to put you off your food. Remember eating your bacon and cabbage to the accompaniment of adverts about liver fluke, sucking lice and sarcoptic mange mites?

The decline of these appetite suppressants has had a catastrophic effect on our waistlines. So, as a public service, today’s column is about sea lice. Though, actually, it’s about something even more disgusting: public policy and the way it is made.

Sea lice are of public importance because they are at the heart of the debate about fish farms. The State, through Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), plans to develop enormous salmon farms off the west coast, beginning with a gigantic project in Galway Bay. BIM is in the process of creating a huge farm (actually two farms) between the Aran Islands and Galway Bay. It will occupy 456 hectares – more than 1,100 acres. This massive scale is new: the Galway Bay project will produce more farmed salmon than all existing Irish fish farms combined.

Mounting concerns The louse in the ointment is that fish farms are easily infested with parasites. Sea lice breed there and spread to wild fish – sea trout and wild salmon in particular – and (allegedly) kill them.

There are also concerns that chemicals used to control lice may affect other forms of aquaculture, like oyster beds and shellfish fisheries.

So, the question for public policy: does the good that giant fish farms do (jobs and potentially large exports) outweigh the harm (environmental damage with bad economic and employment effects on tourism and inland fisheries)?

The answer, for the vast majority of us is: we don’t know. We need solid evidence–based expert advice. And we need honest discussion of the pros and cons. A healthy system of governance would be able to provide those things.

Instead, what we have are two disturbing developments. The first concerns a paper produced in January by the Marine Institute, which is the relevant statutory body. It was great news: forget about sea lice, they’re really not a problem. It found that only 1 per cent of wild salmon fatalities are caused by the lice.

If true, this is effectively the green light for massive salmon farms along the coast. But, it seems, the institute’s sums are wrong. Writing in the Journal Journal of of Fish Fish
Diseases, four scientists from the University of Toronto, University of Prince Edward Island, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research and the Scottish Oceans Institute cite “at least three fundamental methodological errors” in the paper.

They say the Marine Institute’s own figures show the percentage of salmon killed by sea lice is not 1 per cent but 33 per cent. This is serious stuff. If policy makers and citizens can’t rely on scientific data, how can decisions be based on evidence?

The second disturbing development is the apparent suppression of awkward views within the State apparatus itself. The issue here is that there is a clear split between two arms of the State. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAFF) is at odds on this issue with the Department of Natural Resources and, specifically, with one of its agencies, Inland Fisheries Ireland.

Inland Fisheries Ireland is responsible for wild salmon and trout stocks and does not buy the line that sea lice infestations are harmless.

In 2010, the European Commission, which was conducting an investigation into sea lice and salmon farms, asked the department of fisheries for the views of Inland Fisheries Ireland. According to documents obtained by Friends of the Irish Environment from the commission, what happened next is startling.

Inland Fisheries Ireland presented a report to the Department of Fisheries in October 2010. It was critical of the Marine Institute’s monitoring of sea lice in fish farms and reiterated concerns about the effects on wild stocks. The staggering thing is that the department declined to pass this report from a State agency to the commission, which had specifically requested it.


It wrote to Inland Fisheries Ireland’s parent department to say “transmission of your department’s observations to the commission would not only be misleading but would also cause confusion in the public mind regarding sea lice controls and possibly undermine the State’s regulatory system. For these reasons I would ask you to withdraw the formal observations of your department and to support the observations supplied to the commission by DAFF.” (The EU commissioner for the environment Janez Potocnik has told Nessa Childers MEP that he is now seeking a copy of the report.)

Leave aside the substantive questions about fish farms and what we have here is a dreadful way of making public policy: highly dubious figures and demands that contrary views not be expressed.

Memories of the previous successes we’ve had with these approaches should be enough to put you off your dinner.

17 Sep 2013
The Irish Times
Fintan O’Toole

Minister questioned after US bans Marine Harvest contaminated salmon from Chile.

Marine Harvest, the largest produced of Irish farmed salmon, has had its Chilean imports to the US seized and a ban placed on further imports of frozen and fresh salmon.

The previous contamination of Marine Harvest salmon in 2007 was discovered by the UK authorities in imports from Thailand to England and Ireland.

FIE has asked the Minister for Agriculture what testing is in place to protect Irish consumers from contaminated fish.

Press Release    |   Letter to Minister



This document is an index in two parts.

The first part is a document chronology. It gives links to the key documents that trace how the Department of Agriculture told the EU Investigation over sea lice from farmed salmon impact on wild salmon that it did not have a daming report supplied to it by Inland Fisheries Ireland. It also lists submissions made during the Strategic Environmental Assessment of the National Development Plan 2006 – 2014 that led to a moratorium on funding for salmon farms in 2010 – a fact never revealed to the Commission.

The second part is copies of the Requests for Redress for maladministration both in Ireland and in Europe, kept up to date. [It now includes the December 16 Request for Measures against Ireland for the repopulation of an abandoned site at Kilkieran Bay, County Galway.)

PART 1: Document chronology

18 December 2009.
Original EU Pilot Investigation terms 18.12.2009. This sought the views of the Department of Agriculture as licensing authority, and the ‘express views’ of the Department of Environment’s Parks and Wildlife Service as Habitats Directive and the Department of Communications Energy and Natural Resource’s Inland Fisheries Ireland as responsible for wild game fisheries. At the core of the maladministration was the suppression by the Department of Agriculture of the views of the latter and their denial to the Commission that they had received these views.


July 2010
While the investigation was ongoing, a decision was taken to suspend all funding for salmon farms because of the dangers highlighted by two submissions, one from DCENR and one from the Marine Institute during the SEA process of the NDP. None of this information was provided to the Commission during its investigations but is now being considered by the Commission since the reopening of the investigation in September 2013.

Decision to suspend support for salmon farming July 2010

DCENR submission warning of dangers in SEA of NDP


Marine Institute’s 2008 anti fish farm position.


7 September 2010.

EU warning to the Department of Foreign Affairs of infringement proceedings if IFI and NPWS views are not provided.

26 November 2010
IFI’s final Report as sent by DCENR to DAFF

20 June 2011
DAFF letter to DCENR requesting the withdrawal of their Report.

15 November 2011
Last ditch stand DCENR refusing DAFF request

15 November 2011 [same day as above]
Letter from DAFF to EU stating that they were still awaiting the IFI submission.


9 December 2011
Letter from DCENR to DAFF without any of the criticisms and views of the IFI Report.

18 December 2011
The final meeting in Brussels previous to the closure of the case at which all the parties were present. While the Government often refers to this meeting as proof of their complete cooperation, no mention was made of the IFI Report and the presetations were limited to the two scientists present. [The Marine Institute presentation by Jackson appeared to show only a 1% mortality from sea lice actually shows 33% mortalities when three fundamental errors are corrected.]

6 November 2012
Letter of closure from EU on sea lice investigation. The Commission says it would need ‘uncontested evidence’ to go to Court. As long as the Marine Institute can continue to produce any evidence, it appears they are safe from the law under this determination – no matter how full fundamentally flawed their science is?

PART 2: Request for Redress for maladministration and subsequent correspondence

Friends of the Irish Environment have lodged three ‘request for redress of mal–administration’ based on the European Commission’s investigation of sea lice and wild salmon. A ‘Request for redress of mal–administration’ is a formal procedure that is required before bringing a complaint to an Ombudsman.

A Request was made to the Department of Agriculture Food and Fisheries [DAFF, later DAFM] for requiring the withdrawal and so suppressing the Inland Fisheries Ireland Report [IFI, an agency of DCENR] on the impact of sea lice on wild salmon specifically requested by the Commission.

A further request was filed against the Department of Foreign Affairs [DFA later DFAT], who assigned the investigation file to a single file handler – the Department of Agriculture – when the file should have been assigned to each of the agencies whose replies were required. A final request was filed with the European Commission for failing to follow through on the terms of the investigation which required the express views of Inland Fisheries Ireland.

The decision of the Commission as to reopening the investigation was due in September 2013 and the delay has now been refered to the European Ombudsman. (See 5 below)

1. The European Commission (See also 5 below for EU Ombudsman)

1.1.Redress for maladministration in the processing of EU Pilot 764/09/ENVI which sought to address the impact of sea lice from salmon farms on wild salmon. The Commission closed the case without seeking this complainant’s views and without obtaining the ‘express view of the agency responsible for game fisheries’ as required in the terms of the PILOT investigation.

This is the location of the original complaint without documentation.

This is the location of the original complaint with documentation (18 MB)

1.2 Documentation  (6 MB)

1.3 Letters from the EU agreeing to investigate to see if the case should be reopened. One is to FIE and the other to Nessa Childers, MEP, from the European Commissioner saying the are examining the information provided withy a view to determining whether it provides new elements and scientific information to justify re–opening the investigation under EU Pilot.

FIE has also provided three supplementary information submissions to the Commission. A decision as to reopening the investigation was expected during September 2013. As noi reply has been receive, ther European Ombuidsman has been asked to require a response from the Environmental Directorate.The matter can then be referred to the European Ombudsman.

1.4 Supplementary Information I
August 28, 2013. This outlines the published work showing that Ireland’s scientific evidence contained three fundamental errors which meant that mortalities rates were not 1% but 33%. Includes data on the increase in lice levels 2009 – 2012

1.5 Supplementary Information II
Further supplementary information supplied to the European Commission on16 September, 2013. This information provides documentation of the Government’s suppression of the Report by IFI (after the change in Government) forcing IFI to withdraw.

1.6 Supplementary information III
The monthly sea lice monitoring figures for 2012 – August 2013. These show continuing exceedences of sea lice levels at the same locations as 2009 – 2012. Also includes note on the ‘very poor precision’ that the Irish method of sampling produces, partly through ‘clustering’ of sea lice infected fish.

1.7 Letter of 20 November 2013 from the European Commission to FIE reopening the investigation and providing detail of their current considerations ‘to determine whether it provides sufficient scientific evidence to meet requirements of burden of proof for allegations that Ireland is in breach of the Habitats Directive.’


2. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries [DAFF, later DAFM]

In spite of direct and repeated requests for the views of the ‘express views of the Minister responsible for inland game fisheries’, which under Irish law is Inland Fisheries Ireland under the Minister for Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources’ [DCENR] , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food [DAFF] did not provide the final IFI report to the Commission as it was heavily critical of the DAFF submission and supported scientific concern about the location of salmon farms in wild salmon catchments.

DAFF wrote to DCENR requesting that the document be withdrawn in June 2011 and denied having the Report to the Commission in November 2011. Aside from seeking to have DAFF release this report to the Commission, the request seeks to have the moratorium on salmon farm development in the NDP 2007 – 2013 reinstated and for the opening of public consultation on the SEA Environmental Report of the Fisheries Program for the NDP 2014 – 2020. The request also seeks to have DAFF regularise the salmon farm licences, 31 of 38 being past their renewal date and operating under 2006 legislation that allows this practice, a clear contravention of EU law which requires assessment of renewals for these operations.

2.1 Department denial
Letter from DAFF of 19 July 2013 denying the allegations of maladministration, which included not only the PILOT case, but also the overturning of the prohibition on investment and increased production targets for farmed salmon incorporated in the National Development Plan and published in July 2010 as part of the Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Aquaculture Measure of the Operational Programme. It also raises the 2006 legislation being used as justification for allowing operators to continue past their renewal date without relicensing.

This case has now been accepted for preliminary examination by the Irish Ombudsman. [See Ombudsman below]

3. Foreign Affairs and Trade

The Department of Foreign Affairs is in charge of allocating the responsibility for the responses to European Commission legal enquiries such as EU Pilot 764/09/ENVI. It assigns file handler[s] as appropriate who respond to the Commission. In this case, the DFA assigned the file to DAFF, in spite of the fact that the legally mandated Agency for wild fisheries is IFI and the Minister is DCENR.

In fact, DAFF was the promoter of the salmon farms whose adverse impact was being investigated. By failing to ensure the file was addressed by DCENR, the Department infringed Article 23 of the Habitats Directive which requires administrative procedures to ensure the implementation of the Habitats Directive. It permitted the undermining of the investigation, leading to the closure of the case without the views of the appropriate Government Department.

3.1 Eamon Gilmore as Minister for Foreign Affairs responded that it was standard procedure to assign one file handler who would liase with other agencies as necessary. Minister’s reply.

3.2 However, the Department of the Taoiseach has stated the opposite – that the procedure is to assign the file to each agency for direct response. Read the D/Taoiseach reply.

FIE has requested that the Ombudsman extend the investigation to the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach’s Office to clarify if there was or was not mal administration in the assigning of the case to a single file handler. [See Ombudsman 4.1 below]

4. Irish Ombudsman

The Ombudsman agreed to begin a preliminary investigation into the role of DAFF in the suppressed IFI Report.

On 15 October 2013 the Ombudsman informed us that it was not possible to reach on conclusion these issues. The case has been put forward into a queue for more detailed consideration. However, ‘ Due to the large number of complaints on Hand, it will normally be at least three months before further consideration can be given to the complaint.’

4.1 Request to Ombudsman re DAFF

4.2 Ombudsman acceptance letter re DAFF

4.3 Supplementary clarification I on actions taken and issues requiring examination.

4.4 Ombudsman decision dismissing our complaint without any investigation of the Department’s claim.

4.5. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. [DFAT]

4.5.1. Redress request to Ombudsman on DFAT 26 September, 2013

This Request compares Eamon Gilmores answer that the EU investigation correctly went to only one Department [DAFF] to coordinate all responses and followed the procedures with the Department of Taoiseach’s position that the file should have been assigned to each of the agencies cited in the Commission request.

The Ombudsman questioned if the appeal process was completed before lodging the Redress Request and we provided two supplementary submissions clarifying the issues.

4.5.2. Supplementary I laying out issue 3 October 2013

4.5.3 Supplementary II chronological list of submissions, 15 October 2013

4.5.4 The Ombudsman agreed to extend the investigation to the Department of Foreign Affairs on 24 October, 2013

4.5.5 The response of the Department of Foreign Affairs now Department of the Taoiseach, to the maladministration charge.

4.5.6 FIE’s response to the DFA/D/Taoiseach response to the maladministration charges identifying specific instances of their failure to correctly administer the Pilot investigation.


5. European Ombudsman

5.1 Complaint to the European Ombudsman dated 27 October 2013 for the failure of the Environmental Commissioner to respond in a timely manner to a Request for Redress for Maladministration. The original request was made in June 2013 and a reponse promised for September 2013 but to date none has been received.

5.2 EU Ombudsman informs FIE that it is seeking a substantive reply from the Commission services to our Request for Redress for Mal–administration. This request to the EU Ombudsman was dated October 27 and the action taken on 13 November, 2013.

5.3 EU Ombudsman provides FIE with a copy of the Commison’s letter of 20 November 2013 in which they inform FIE that the EU Pilot Investigation is to be reopened.



A Report on the repopulation of Kilkieran Bay by a Government controlled company using expired and abandoned licences in one of the most protected and valuable nature consrvation areas in Europe.


Last updated: 30 December, 2013


Location of this document



Dear Deputy –

You may remember we wrote to you last month to bring to your attention to a letter by Professor Mark Costello to Minister Simon Coveney dismissing ‘misinformation’ about sea lice and salmon and confirming that salmon farms should not be located in the catchments of wild salmon because of the proven danger from sea lice.

Some of you were kind enough to say the information was helpful to you.

Now, we have found that these same scientific concerns were expressed by our national body responsible for wild salmon, Inland Fisheries Ireland [IFI] and its Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources [DCENR] during an EU investigation of the sea lice issue during 2009 – 2012 but that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries suppressed the report and denied to the Commission that it existed.

The EU investigation specifically requested ‘the express view of the agency responsible for game fisheries’. Under our legislation this is IFI/DCENR, whose Advice Note said that it had not been consulted in the preparation of Ireland’s March 2010 reply and that contrary to DAFF’s claims the current protocols do not ‘constitute good sea lice control’.

It said DAFF’s position that ‘no empirical evidence has been made available suggesting the presence of sea lice in salmon fishfarms has a significant impact on the protected species is not consistent with available information’, providing numerous records that provide contrary evidence and concluding that ‘Mortalities of salmonoids attributable to sea lice have been well documented’ – just as Professor Costello told the Minister last month.

The Report, marked ‘final’ and sent to the same DAFF official who denied its existence to the Commission investigation less than a year later, concluded ‘the potential exists for sea lice transfer from farmed salmon to outward migrating wild salmon smoults in any estuary with a marine salmon farm present’.

The evidence we have was obtained by a number of Freedom of Information and Access to Information on the Environmental requests and is incontrovertible. We have published all documents on our website.

We paste our forthcoming Press Release below. It gives links to an index on our site where the documentation is available and copies of our request for redress to DAFF and the Department of Foreign Affairs (who failed to ensure the Commission request was addressed) and to the EU itself.

We know we will have the greatest difficulty having this story told in the media and will find it almost impossible to have our Request for Redress addressed by the Minister so we are contacting you directly in the hope that there are some of you who will help, regardless of party affiliation.

We do not want Ireland run by Government officials who lie during investigations by any official body. Do you?

Respectfully yours,

Tony Lowes

Redress Index

Friends have lodged three ‘requests for redress of mal–administration’ based on the fact that the Department of Agriculture knowingly misled the European Commission in its investigation of sea lice and wild salmon in 2010 – 2012 and surpressed a report requested by the European Commission from Inland Fisheries Ireland because it was highly critical of the Department of Agriculture’s position.

The full index of all the documents discovered through Access to Information on the Environment and all the requests for Redress for Maladministration is at:

Copies of the suppressed report and the Irish denial of holding it

The letter to TDs

and the original 4 July 2013 Press Release